For the last seven years, Columbus Day has belonged to Pronk. In a rather simple nutshell, Pronk is a free concert in India Point Park followed by a parade down Wickenden Street that all culminates with a series of after dark performances. But in a nutshell laced with hyperbole it’s more like the arrival of benevolent aliens heralded by the sounds of brass and marching percussion as they descend on India Point Park and cascade down Wickenden, ultimately dispersing like a technicolor delta between the Hot Club and the echoing, urban cavern underneath 195.
Inspired by similar multi-day Honk festivals in Boston and New York, local street and marching bands like Providence’s own Extraordinary Rendition Band (ERB), Kickin’ Brass and What Cheer? Brigade host fellow groups from across the country – and even the world – in what can very simply be called a free, all-day festival.
“It feels like this very spontaneous, crazy event that just sort of falls on Providence,” says Avi David, who volunteers on the Pronk committee in addition to being the bass drummer in ERB. “It feels a little edgy and out of control, and I think it should feel that way. That’s the intention. We never want it to feel too structured.”
That sense of spontaneity and structural looseness is balanced by the months of planning that goes on behind the scenes. There are permits and grants to be secured. Bands to be wrangled, directed, fed, sheltered and transported. “Logistically it can kind of be a nightmare, but each year we refine our process.”
All of this is juggled by volunteers and musicians whose only compensation is seeing it all pulled off on the day of. “Most of our committee members wear many hats,” adds Jenn Harris. “It can be incredibly challenging to make a festival happen and to keep expanding it in new and exciting ways.”
One of the ways Pronk has been trying to expand in recent years is by emphasizing the activist roots that run deep in its performers. “It’s a huge part of Pronk,” says Avi. “It’s not just a celebration of free music and art, but also an opportunity for community groups working tirelessly for justice in our community to come out and celebrate their work.”
Last year local artists worked with groups like New Urban Arts, The Providence Student Union and English for Action – just to name a few – to create a vibrant visual component that reflected each organization’s message and was carried down Wickenden Street during the parade. “It’s a key part to the festival,” says Jori Ketten, one of the drummers for What Cheer? Brigade. “A big part of what Pronk does is it engages the community and brings awareness to com- munity groups and what they’re doing.”
“We want it to be a place where these grassroots community groups can let people know what they’re about and get their day in the sun,” adds Pronk committee volunteer Mark Sawtelle. “To use common parlance it’s a 99 percenters sort of festival: people who come together not just for a parade but to help improve other people’s lives.”
As an annual event that merges entertainment and important messages for social and community change, Pronk’s efforts are noble, and its organizers and participants should feel proud in the awareness they’re raising. But above all else Pronk is a festival that seethes raw energy, making it a standout attraction in a city whose calendar is already top heavy with impressive spectacle.
Plus it’s family friendly. But parents, heed this heads up; after taking the kiddos to the India Point and the parade, be sure to dump them on a sitter and stick around for the festival’s finale with What Cheer? Brigade lest you feel the sting of regret the next morning around the water cooler. After the sun goes down the whole thing starts to feel a bit dangerous, like somehow you’re getting away with something. It’s like your high school’s punk kids stole the marching band’s gear and put on a gonzo, up all night halftime show.
“Part of what’s awesome about Pronk is that it still feels like it’s on the edge of chaos at all times,” says Avi, “And I think that’s okay. It feels like an anything goes festival. There are tons of logistics and planning that go into it. But on the day of it’s sort of like, who knows what’s going to happen. That’s what I love about it.”
Concerts at India Point Park October 13 at 3pm Parade at 5pm Performances to continue into the evening